51 Things I Learned in 2016

Historically, my aspirations of keeping up with writing on this blog have led to countless posts beginning with “It has been too long.” Once again, history proves that it repeats itself as I dust off my laptop’s keys and pause briefly trying to remember what my password for this account is.

History is also repeating itself because, as per my annual tradition (going on eight years now), I am going to look back and share several memories and things I learned over the course of 2016. If you are intrigued, please read on. If I have already successfully bored you, here’s a photograph of a cute baby animal before clicking away merrily to a more fascinating website:

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Ahem. And now, 51 Things I Learned in 2016:

1) You wake up with hesitation about 2016 on January 1st. You’ve been having doubts about everything it seems lately, and you are genuinely unsure of where this year is headed. You have just moved out from your parents’ house, and you are still re-adjusting to living on your own.

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2) These doubts and fears don’t go away when you find out that your new landlords tell you they are selling the house you are currently renting on January 2nd, and you have until April 1st to find a new place to live. Again.
3) To fight these feelings brought on by the large blank canvas that looms before you, you start  making spontaneous plans, like entering a writing competition, pitching a story to a magazine, applying for a fellowship and planning a two-week trip abroad with your boyfriend the two of you have dreamed about for years. You tell yourself half-heartedly that if you are meant to be a writer, at least one of the writing things will pan out.

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4) You get rejected by the magazine, but are encouraged to keep pitching.

5) You become a savvy apartment hunter, and within two weeks of learning you have to be out of your current residence you and your roommate locate an adorable two-bedroom that will be ready by March 1st – and you can paint the walls.

6) You have driven a U-Haul. Never forget that.

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7) You sigh relief, thinking you don’t have to move again for a long while – until your place of employment informs you they are moving their offices in August.

8) It’s during the spring where the year suddenly takes off for you, and in turn throws several surprises your way: Your co-worker and fellow work space neighbor informs you she is leaving for another job in another city. You make it into the fellowship. Another co-worker and dear friend informs you she is leaving her part-time job where you work for a full-time gig elsewhere, but she gets to visit you at your fellowship. You receive a voicemail from a number you don’t recognize only to learn that the writing competition you entered has selected your piece out of 270 submissions to be one of the 12 performed in September.

9) May and June are very conflicting months for you.

10) But you start to feel like this whole writing thing might actually be your calling after all.

11) The night at Hotel Foster and Ian’s Pizza in celebration of a friend’s graduation will live on as a story you tell your kids when you reminisce about your twenties before they came along.

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12) You learn that you will never ever ride the Lake Michigan Ferry again. EVER.

13) Because apparently, you get motion sick. Or so you think.

14) Remember, you have driven across half the country completely alone, after getting sick – twice, through states you’ve never been to, with a phone at 10%, a dead GPS, no maps, and with less than half a tank of gas. Remember that you did that.

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15) But next time, remember you should fly.

16) You would find the one lady in Rochester, New York who runs an AirBnB that looks like a fairy-tale cottage and is a freelance scenic designer for some of the community theaters in town.

17) After a 2.5 hour ferry ride, and over ten hours on the road lending to hundreds of miles driven and several toll booths fed, you will find yourself in one of the most comfortable beds of your life. It will easily make the Top 5 List.

18) The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center is a magical and inspiring place.

19) You meet some of the best theater critics and arts journalists currently working in the country, and you instantly feel insignificant. All confidence you just gained regarding your writing is gone.

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20) Marisa Tomei is a fantastic actress. Period.

21) When you think you suck, remember you made Chris Jones laugh with your writing. Laugh because he found it funny, not because it was awful. You hope.

22) You realize your next car should be newer, so the chance of your muffler falling off completely after a cross-country road trip is less likely.

23) Food poisoning isn’t fun. Especially when you are 1,000 miles from home.

24) You spend your second week at your fellowship feeling like your disappointing everyone because you keep getting sick, off and on. You wonder what the hell is going on. You’re quite certain several people are speculating you are pregnant.

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25) But you’re not pregnant. You (finally, and officially) get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Suddenly, so many moments of your life make sense.

26) Thank God for your dear friend who was able to help you drive back home. You learn the two of you are even more alike; she is after all the reason you learned about the fellowship, told you to get checked out, and helped you get anxiety medicine.

27) It’s also because of her that you have seen Times Square and your first Broadway show, Something Rotten! at the St. James Theatre in New York City.

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28) In August, you spend two-weeks on a whirlwind adventure abroad with you boyfriend of six years. You thank your doctor for giving you another batch of anxiety medication to help you cope.

29) You don’t remember planes being a problem before, considering you have gone on a plane every year since 2012 and aside from freaking out from occasional turbulence, you have been fine.

30) Despite the rain in Iceland, you enjoy its natural springs and waterfalls and black sand beaches. You adore the colorful houses of Reykjavik. You eat at Bobbie Fischer’s favorite pho place. You sit on a basalt column outside of Vik, in the mist, never wanting to sit anywhere else. You stand in front of a Skogafoss, and the brisk droplets from the waterfall make you feel truly alive and happy. Months later, you will want to go back.

31) London is as wonderful as every single British romantic comedy has ever made it out to be. You feel welcomed. You become a skilled Tube rider. You spend the day touring the Tower of London and see the Crown Jewels. You learn sometimes you just need to go off and discover, and you will happen upon a local pub (just around the corner from 221B) and it will have the best fish and chips you have ever tasted. You walk the whole length of Hyde Park in hopes of finding the Peter Pan statue. Months later, you will want to go back.

32) The London Tube and The Paris Metro both have a tendency to attract accordion players.

33) Paris is exactly how you picture it. You find joy in sitting outside of Notre Dame, eating your leftover airplane breakfast as lunch, listening to the bells beside the love of your life. At that moment, you can’t imagine anything more romantic.

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34) Bike signals save lives in Amsterdam. So does the fact you and your boyfriend both have your phones on you, allowing you to find each other when you separated.

35) You get cursed at in Dutch. You deserved it.

36) You also learn that stairs are incredibly steep in Amsterdam townhouses. But from all the walking you are doing in their beautiful parks and around their museums, your calves are up to the challenge. Good thing, since Scotland also has an obsession with stairs.

37) Edinburgh is the city for artists and writers, and feeds your passion. You attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and see circus acts and a wonderful tale about the true writers behind the Grimm tales. You visit the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling worked on Harry Potter, which reminds you to write more…and that you need to finish reading the books.

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38) It is amazing how close a room full of strangers can become over a magical evening featuring whisky tastings, dinner, and an illusionist’s show.

39) The Scottish Highlands are beautiful. You decide you need to return someday to see everything you missed. Speaking of which, you miss Scotland a lot.

40) Your boyfriend can drive on the left side of the car in Ireland. You find this new ability of his extremely attractive.

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41) The Irish countryside makes you think of home.

42) You make it to the Cliffs of Insanity. You can neither confirm nor deny that you took a piece of them with you.

43) Your new work desk is a mini condo with a window. But still, you hope for no more moving.

44) You are called a playwright when the monologue you wrote for a writing competition is performed before an almost full-house at a professional theater. The artistic director hugs you, and she and her artistic associate, along with your piece’s director and actress all commend you on your writing style. For the first time in a long time, you feel like you have found a place where you belong, among these fantastic artists.

45) In regards to a certain election, you didn’t see that coming. You also can’t help but feel as if you are living in an alternative timeline, what with the election results, the surplus of celebrity deaths, and the Cubs winning the World Series.

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46) Apparently, if your boyfriend’s parents host your entire family for Thanksgiving, your grandparents will take this to mean you and your boyfriend are actually engaged.

47) Between the holidays and end-of-the-year-work-related-stress, your anxiety flares up again in time for all end-0f-the-year festivities. You decide you won’t let it get in the way.

48) La La Land helps you find magic in a month where you have been feeling anything but. On that note, Rogue One makes you wistful for Iceland and Carrie Fisher and Arrival helps you make peace with the concept of making decisions for your future self.

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49) Your roommate makes you a Star Wars blanket, a friend gifts you Nessy socks, your landlord and downstairs neighbor continue to be the best landlord and neighbor ever when they surprise you with gifts, your mom gives you a book followed up with the words “you can write better than this,” and your boyfriend invests in your health by getting you a Fit Bit – which, surprisingly, helps you manage your anxiety. Bottom line: on your worst days, no matter the distance, remember people love you just as you are.

50)Speaking of love, you realize how grateful you are to have Z in your life. From remembering the little things (such as the fact you like peanut M&Ms in your movie popcorn) to being there when you need it most (such as having a panic attack), he is absolutely one of the best elements of your life. He has seen you at your worst (mentally, emotionally, physically – yes, including illness) and he still holds your hand and helps you get through to the next moment. Remember his kindness and patience and love as you head into your seventh year together. Men like him (heck people like him) don’t just appear at your doorstep everyday.

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And, finally…

51)You realize you need to keep working on being happy yourself. You skew bitter and resentful too often, which is sad because if there is anything you have learned this year is how much you actually have going for you.

So, in the famous words of Shia, “JUST DO IT!” is the theme for 2017. Eat the healthy salad instead of the pizza you will regret. Clean up the mess instead of letting the mess control you. Turn off Facebook instead of scowling at the stories friends share. Read a book or work on your own, instead of wondering why nothing ever happens to you. Book a flight and go on a trip and don’t let your anxiety win. Love your family, your friends, and Z to the best of your ability, and remember they are human too. Don’t be afraid to be selfish from time to time, and don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself. Don’t judge your life by the friend that got engaged, the brother that bought a house, or the acquaintance that got a new job – hold yourself to your standards, not some other human’s.

Remember that.

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Cheers to 2017,

-The Shoe
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To My Dearest Self

A month ago I promised myself I would maintain this blog better. This month ago I made a lot of semi-serious promises to myself, what most people call “New Year Resolutions”, the silly semi-serious promises we make ourselves before another winter storm and several inches of snow takes every ounce of optimism away from us. Before we know it, the new year is beginning to resemble the previous year. The only difference being one is older, in not just age but potentially looks, and the sheer frustration that if I haven’t lost the weight or kept up with my goals that I keep making for some reason-will I ever truly change?

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I love my commute home. After a day of work, which could be any number of things (long, busy, fun, boring, tiring, upsetting, or the go-to “ok”), I settle into my car for a 30-minute drive on side roads in rush hour traffic. I don’t know if it’s because I finally have a few moments to myself to think, or if it is the natural calm that comes with driving, but I have some of my best ideas and thoughts while driving. They range from picking and working on songs I hope to perform in a lip synch battle with Jimmy Fallon someday…

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to planning my dream elopement (which won’t sadly happen because I’m not heartless nor do I lack feelings). [end sarcasm]

Sometimes my mind wonders to my writing (or lack thereof). Everything from writing prompts to my writing style to the fact that I have all these great ideas swirling around in my cranium and yet when it comes to actually pinning them down in actual ink (or pixelated text) I suddenly whine and say it’s too hard, I suck at writing and shouldn’t even try-and before I know it I’m watching another season of Friends on Netflix (after I get home, of course).

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Most often, though, my thoughts become rather reflective and I begin to look at myself.

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I guess when I was younger, I saw myself further in life. To be honest, I never really pictured life after 24 years old. I kind of just assumed that I would graduate college, get an awesome job I loved, marry my true love, and start making babies-all before the age of 25 (I have diary entries to back it up…however we won’t get into that right now).

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If I’m being fair however, my ten-year-old self wasn’t factoring in some pretty big details. Like, student loans: how after almost three years, you will still be paying off your education and degree. Or the big awesome job? Some days I do truly love the job and what I do, but other days are hard-that’s just life. Life is never easy, it’s never without challenges, every day has it’s own struggles that need to be overcome. And marriage-marriage is not as simple as I originally thought as a child. I thought it was as easy as bumping into some random stranger that when your eyes met they just knew your whole life story-one they joined a year or two later. I didn’t factor in things like loving someone despite their flaws and faults, loving someone when they have wronged someone (or after you have wronged them), not being ready for the big commitment marriage is or how truly long ‘forever’ is. Don’t even get me started on babies. There are a lot of things they didn’t cover in my high school sex education class.

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I look in the mirror at what I have become physically. I resemble that ten-year-old girl, except I look older-and tired. My hair has lost that youthful luster, while the acne I was told would go away still is camping out on my cheeks. My body is no longer rail thin-it instead boasts curves, edges-some larger than I would like.

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What I don’t spend enough time doing is looking on what I have become on the inside. Believe me, it’s a bit of a murky mess, but a murky mess that intrigues me-and oddly makes me optimistic. I’m not the strongest person I could be-but the potential is there. I’m not the most confident person I could be-but the potential is there. There are some qualities of mine that have grown and matured and have developed quite nicely over the years, while others could use some work and careful tending.

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What I don’t always recognize is how intertwined our inner selves and our outer shells are connected. If you feel like utter rubbish on the inside, it isn’t going to help you feel like a million dollars on the outside (nor will you be motivated to even make an effort to fake the look through the use of smoke and mirrors). I have a vision in my mind of what I could look like-should look like-but if I don’t start making changes on the inside where it matters, than that vision is going to stay exactly what it is right now-an imaginary picture of what I could be and nothing more.

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So as I stare at myself in the mirror, a month after I made some semi-serious (and semi-empty) promises to myself, I think about the inner self and the outer shell. How it honestly is never too late to make a resolution, and at the same time realizing I am nothing more than a human being that will occasionally slip up. Thinking that maybe I need to stop putting so much pressure on myself to be the best instead of just to be my best. There is a difference, after all.

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So here’s to not giving up, but letting myself fall down sometimes. Here’s to sorting out the mess on the inside, with hopes of it oozing to the surface. Here’s to loving myself enough to give myself a chance. Or several chances, since I will screw up the ones given. Here’s to still dreaming, because even though every dream is now drizzled with a sense of realism, that ten-year-old girl that thought the sky was limitless is still inside-pushing, motivating, desiring-and I owe it to her-and myself-to let her be heard.

This Valentine’s Day, yes I will hand out whimsical valentines to my co-workers and shower Z with amorous love. But first? I’m going to try to love myself better than I have been. I think that’s a good resolution-who cares what time of year it is.

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Sincerely,

The Shoe

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The Last Five Years: A Love Letter from A to Z

Spoiler Alert: I am branching out from my usual writing today to dedicate this following piece to someone of major significance today. The following post will contain the words ‘love’ and ‘relationships’ more times than some individuals will like, overtly affectionate phrases, and a semi-in-depth look at me and my significant other. To aid in my tale, I will be using GIFs featuring famous couples from film and television, including some of my all-time favorite OTPs (One True Pairings for you folks playing at home). If at any point you feel uncomfortable with this post, please feel free to stop reading and click away as I textually ramble on. 🙂

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Dear Z (and everyone else reading this),

Today is December 17th. If you recall, six years ago this was approximately four days after we had just broken up. I remember the date because we broke up on your birthday. You initiated, while I held a Tupperware container filled with lemon poppyseed muffins-your favorite, one of the few things I knew about you at that point. It was also the first time I had ever written you a letter.

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In my case, lemonade into lemons and back into lemon poppyseed muffins. But I digress.

Five years ago today, there was snow on the ground but it was oddly warm. Finals at school were just finishing up, and we were walking to Subway for dinner. It was the first time I wore your dark red sweatshirt (the one that now takes residence in my closet). We picked up some pre-dinner hot cocoas, and I can literally pinpoint on a Google map the moment everything changed-I was in mid sentence one second, and the exact next one you were kissing me.

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In this particular scenario, I was more like Flynn. Which makes this story even better. 🙂

At that point, I was amazed at how much had changed in one year.
Now as I sit here and write this, I’m amazed at how much has changed in the five years since.

The first six months we were inseparable, which led to driving our roommates and close friends absolutely nuts. In all honesty, we didn’t notice or we did but didn’t care. That sounds callous, but it’s true. I’ve seen it happen with other friends and their significant others and we weren’t any different. We walked around with big goofy grins on our faces, walked each other to every single class no matter how inconvenient, and made single friends and established couples feel awkward with our constant affections of hand-holding, hugging, and making eyes at each other.

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Regina is totally right. They totally make eyes at each other.

We felt this infallible certainty that we were meant to be together, we chose a song to be ours, and you boldly stated you could see us getting married.

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This was also before I appreciated Firefly, but clearly the ideal marriage. Wash and Zoe, and Serenity never happened.

And then…graduation happened and so did reality.

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For the past five years, 4.5 of those years have been spent apart. You in one city, and I in another. Divided by over 100 miles and two hours, we have crammed the in-person aspects of our relationship in tiny windows of time resembling not-long-enough weekends. To say the least, this has lead to a very unique dynamic of our relationship. Our time together is limited and precious, and some friends feel alienated, hurt, or confused when we don’t want to spend time with them while we are together. Others scoff as we have labeled this a “long distance” courtship, because we haven’t had to endure being states or countries apart. We’ve had to balance our conflicting schedules (school, the inconsistencies of retail, and working on weekends), we’ve had to work around living arrangements due to not having our own places, and above all, we have had to answer the question “So when are you guys getting engaged?” from countless friends, co-workers, family members, clients, pastors, and even random strangers.

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No commentary necessary.

We’ve been asked that question so many times that if I received a dollar for every time either of us were approached with that question we would have enough money to pay off my loans, a down payment on a house, and enough left over for a month long venture around the world.

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For the past five years, our relationship and where it is headed has been at the fore front of many conversations. Where some couples when dating can merely sit next to each other on a couch and binge watch Netflix when they see each other every night, we have to cram the following into 48 hours (and less if we exclude the hours we spend sleeping): every conversation we started while apart over the phone but decided was better discussed in person, life goals and aspirations, basic and general dating questions such as “how many kids you want?”, “Are you a dog person?”, or “Where do you want to live someday?”, learning about each other from basic observation (Pet peevs: Feet on pillows-me and excess hair on my hairbrush-him), and talking about the big huge M word (money) and the even bigger huge M word (marriage).

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Most couples discuss these things over the course of a month or two. We get a weekend. Or two. If we are lucky.

For the past five years, we have certainly learned a lot about each other. You like to cook, and I like to do laundry. We both can find the humor in Six Days, Seven Nights, and have a vast array of inside jokes (well, not only). We have traveled together, to the mountains in Colorado to the cherry blossoms of D.C. We have survived camping during an awful thunderstorm and a huge fight over a water ride. I’ve edited your Facebook posts for grammatical inaccuracies and you’ve attempted to help me understand the basics of math.

We’ve critiqued each other, which has led us to some of our best work-after our pride was slightly damaged because of how much each other’s opinion means to the other. We have gone clothes shopping together, where you have encouraged me to spend money and will honestly tell me if something doesn’t look good-or if it does. We’ve gone grocery shopping together, and have both taken turns telling the other one to put things back on the shelf because “we don’t need it.” You’ve pushed me because you’ve seen my potential, and I’ve challenged you on more than one occasion, making us equals and well-matched when it comes to our feisty spirits.

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For the past five years, we have definitely been there for each other. I was there for you when you graduated, and all the emotional baggage that came with. You returned the favor two years later, proudly looking on as I walked across that stage, and stood by me when I went through my own rough patch after graduation.

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We’ve been there for each other through unemployment, the uncertain future of business ventures, job rejections in the form of email, failed job interviews, and sharing a mutual understanding of the hell that can be working retail. We’ve been there for each other at funerals and at hospitals where the lives of loved ones were uncertain or being remembered. We have been there for each other as we have double teamed babysitting for friends and their kids, and have learned just how intense children can be. We’ve been there for each other for birthdays and anniversaries, taking turns picking up the tab on dinners and vacations pending on who was more financially stable at the time. We’ve been there for each other through receding hairlines and graying strands, through weight gain and loss. We’ve even been there for each other when we weren’t sure about our future, and that is a pretty big-and awesome-thing.

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For the past five years, if there is one thing I have learned is that I have a friend in you and you in I. The past five years have been far from easy, and I’m sure life will only throw more curveballs the older we get. However, the past five years have also been filled with countless hours and moments of sheer joy, and I honestly cannot find the right words to express just how grateful I am for it all.

I am so grateful for the hours of laughter to the point of being out of breath, the respect and admiration that has grown for each other, the million little things we do to say “I love you,” the complete honesty and bluntness we bring to every hefty conversation, the moments we can just revel in each other’s company, the hugs that feel like home, every single car ride no matter how many times we debate the accuracy of the GPS, the frank talks about our deepest fears and faith, our trips to Barnes and Noble when caffeine pulsates through our veins and our ideas take flight, and every single moment where we communicate with our eyes with knowing glances or raised eyebrows-every single of these millions of moments I am so grateful for and glad to have been able to share with you.

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Too often I look forward, wondering how this will all turn out. Some may say after reading this I have spent too much time looking back. No matter which direction, I just want you to know how much I love you and how no matter what happens, I am beyond blessed to have you in my life now-as my boyfriend yes, but more importantly as a friend.

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Today I was talking with a friend, and she flat out told me this:

“He’s a good one. He really is. Don’t lose him.”

I think too often I don’t appreciate you or what we have, and what’s good and great about us can get lost in the everyday nonsense that we let take over our lives. You really are a rarity among men, and I want to brag about that to the masses. Thus the reason for this piece. No, not to rub it in someone’s single face that I have an awesome boyfriend. And no, this is not to be construed as a major outcry for some overpriced finger jewelry.

This is simply a girl telling a guy that she still really likes him, and she just can’t keep it to herself.

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Happy Anniversary Z. I love you. Lotza. 😉

Sincerely,

Your Shoe

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